Thursday, 8 July 2010

Petition to free gay Tamil refugee from Australian detention

Source: CAAH (Community Action against Homophobia)

Leela KTH is a queer Tamil refugee from Sri Lanka. He left Sri Lanka because he faced such high levels of hostility to his sexuality. In Sri Lanka, Leela had been arrested and beaten by police in a series of incidents that seem to have been set-ups or harassment concerning registration papers for vehicles.

All Leela's experiences with the police culminated in him being detained, stripped and beaten. At one stage the police allegedly threatened to put a video of him, naked and beaten, on the internet as a way to "shame" him.

The Sri Lankan penal code is homophobic - it has outlawed sodomy and homosexuality for men and women since 1995, when the law was amended to be "gender neutral". Also, the traditional response to homosexuality by some religious groups in Sri Lanka is death.

So Leela fled on a small boat with 43 other people to sail across the Indian Ocean from Sri Lanka, to the west coast of Australia. He left Sri Lanka on September 11 and was taken to Christmas Island after being intercepted by naval border security on October 2.

Leela has experienced the same fear, shame and abuse suffered by many young gay, lesbian, bisexual, transpeople people around the world, and feels that he was treated as an "untouchable"; a term that Leela uses to explain the restriction of people from most of the culture, including the already limited job market.
Adding to Leela, and many Tamils misery, war broke out in 2009 in Sri Lanka against the Tamil people. They were massacred and brutalised. In a three-month period, 52,000 Tamils were killed and 300,000 people placed in concentration camps. As a member of the oppressed Tamil population, the oppression Leela suffered was compounded.

On arrival at Christmas Island Leela told authorities his sexual orientation, explaining the shame he felt, and that he was suicidal. Homophobia exists in all cultures, and Christmas Island was no exception.
In Leela's attempt to explain his specific needs as a refugee, he had to disclose very intimate details about his sexual history and identity. When I spoke of this with Leela, he described his sexual identity as, "I have both woman and man in me," a statement that is not uncommon from intersex, sex and/or gender diverse people from around the world.

Leela is still waiting in Villawood Detention Centre. He arrived on April 10 and has been approved by the Australian government as a refugee who is legitimately seeking asylum based on his specific cultural identity; an identity that would put him at risk if he were returned to his home country. But Leela's hardship does not end there. Leela's caseworker is completing security checks from Sri Lanka, standard practice for all immigrants that apply for residency. But because the Australian government disregards the plight of refugees, they have a ‘backlog' of refugee cases that mean security checks could take up to six months. Leela could be imprisoned inside Villawood for that long, even though he has been accepted as a refugee.

Leela is anguished in prison. He is singled out in detention because of his sexuality and his mental state is deteriorating. The Department of Immigration have not been to see him for one month. CAAH activists fear he will not last the possible six months it may take to get security clearance.

We are asking you to sign this petition demanding the Department of Immigration and Citizenship release Leela from Villawood Detention Centre. We are also requesting that you ring Leela's Case Manager - an employee of the Department of Immigration and ask them why they have not moved on Leela's case.
Help Leela, and help even less fortunate refugees who are languishing in Australian detention centres while the government plays with their futures. Community campaigning is key to getting more refugees, like Leela, free.


  1. I am working with the person identified in this story. Apart from working with his legal team, the lgbt organisation that will be supporting him on his release, and his psyche, the most difficult work has been trying to keep his name and photo out of the press until his case is cleared. I know that "activists" have good intentions, and I identify as one, but there is also good reason to not identify asylum seekers too soon. Leela has not come out fully to his family and friends in Sri Lanka. Many asylum seekers think about giving in during what is a long and exhausting wait in detention centres. If Leela decided to do this, he would then be returning to Sri Lanka fully identified. I also feel sickeningly implicated because this article is lifted from an initial article that I wrote with Leela, but without his full name, and with the photo removed after being given sound advice from people who have good experience working with lgbt assylum seekers.

  2. Hi

    I will edit it to remove his name + photo. No worries, quite understand. You should also contact the author of the piece on

  3. Also please stay in touch and let us know what happens!

  4. Thankyou very much. I enjoy your site so much and was just shocked when this was sent to me from a friend in Africa who knew that I was working with Leela.
    What your article misses is the ongoing hostility that Leela faces in detention. I have written another article ,this describes the homophobia that he has faced and specific issues regarding working with gay refugees. Leela was actually moved into a higher security setting after homophobic attacks, the area he was moved to is the same one that criminals waiting for deportation are kept in. Just recently he was attacked by one, not an obvious homophobic incident, but something that seemed inevitable. Now as a result of this incident Leela has been moved to housing within the complex and is very happy about this. There is a strong possibility that if I can find him appropriate community housing he can wait out the remaining ASIO checks externally, so fingers crossed. Here is a link to the story of the recent assault.
    Thanks again.
    Andrew John Brent.

  5. Cheers for the update Andrew, will publish it. This is lifted from CAAH but happy to publish updates, just let us know!

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